© Reuters. Autumn Nations Cup – England Training
By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Rugby’s Autumn Nations Cup might not have quite the same allure as the Six Nations Championship but this year’s tournaments do have one thing in common – a complicated set of permutations ahead of the final round of group fixtures.
A month ago the calculators were out to see what England, Ireland and France needed to do to decide the Six Nations title – with England taking it on points difference – and it is a similar situation this weekend.
The difference is that this week will decide the finishing order ahead of further, final round of head-to-heads between the teams finishing in the corresponding position in the two groups.
As ever, although their are several potential outcomes, there are some that are decidedly more likely than others.
England lead Group A with nine points after their wins over Wales and Georgia, with Ireland and Wales both on four. Another win, a draw or defeat with a bonus point against Wales in Llanelli on Saturday will leave Eddie Jones’s team safely top of the pile.
For Wales to finish above them they would have to overturn their current 56-point deficit and points scored deficit, which would require a minimum victory margin of 29, assuming that win includes four tries.
Their biggest win over their oldest rivals in matches spanning almost 140 years is 27 points from their famous 30-3 Cardiff Grand title decider in 2013.
However, if England lose by a narrower margin, and fail to collect a bonus point, it opens the door for Ireland.
By the time they host Georgia on Sunday the Irish will know how things stand. They currently trail England by 39 on points difference – a figure that will be smaller should England lose – meaning that a hefty bonus point win over a Georgian team yet to register a point could take them top.
Things look a lot clearer in Group B, thanks in part to Fiji having to forfeit all their games with a 28-0 scoreline due to COVID-19 infections.
That means that Scotland have already completed their pool games and have 11 points. France, 22-15 winners at Murrayfield on Sunday, are second on nine and will top the group with another win over Italy in Paris on Saturday.
Should that game be a draw of if the Italians pull off an upset victory, Scotland would finish top and second place would depend on bonus points or points difference between France and Italy.
What is already certain, however, is the venue for the final games, where England, Ireland and Wales will be at home, and Georgia will be at Murrayfield, where, if as is likely they finish bottom of their group, they will hope Fiji can muster a team to play them.
The most likely outcome of it all is that England will face France on Sunday Dec. 6 to decide the inaugural – and perhaps only – Autumn Nations Cup champions.
Ireland, likely to finish second, will play the second-placed team from Group B, probably Scotland, leaving Wales to host Italy in the battle of the third-placed teams – all those games on Dec. 5.
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